Mago: style icon of the Swedish stage

mago_affisch2009.11.01– 2010.09.15

“Mago: style icon of the Swedish stage” is Sweden’s first retrospective exhibition showcasing Mago’s great contribution to the country’s film and theatre scene. Mago, who was born Max Goldstein, collaborated with all the greats – from variety show king Karl Gerhard to film maestro Ingmar Bergman. Not many Swedes, however, are aware of his background and family history.

Max Goldstein was born in Berlin, on 22 March 1925. After the Nazis took power, his father, who was a German Jew, suffered grave persecution before he was finally able to flee to Sweden. The family reunited in 1939, when, at the last minute, Max, his brother Peter and their mother gained exit visas.

Karl Gerhard and Marlene Dietrich
Mago, who designed costumes for theatre and film as well as variety shows is a name both abroad and in Sweden.

He collaborated with Karl Gerhard on eight different variety shows. Marlene Dietrich referred to Mago as her only true friend. A sizeable part of their correspondence has been preserved and the exhibition features some of the original letters. Swedish actor Jarl Kulle believed Mago was a two hundred per cent professional. While Mago himself simply loved his primadonnas: glittery Git Gay, singer Sarah Leander and several other stars of the stage and silver screen.

Ingmar Bergman
Mago first worked with Bergman in 1953, when he contributed the costumes for “Gycklarnas Afton” (Sawdust and Tinsel). Mago subsequently produced both costumes and scenery for several of Bergman’s film, theatre and television productions. In total their collaboration involved twelve films and several plays staged at the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre.

The exhibition is a way for the Jewish Museum to celebrate one of Sweden’s greatest artists within film and theatre. Mago’s is a remarkable lifework, not least when you consider he was a refugee who, at the very last minute, managed to escape the Holocaust, which sealed the fate of the European Jews.

Mago possessed a rare talent that did not only earn him an outstanding career, but also lifelong friendships with the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Swedish actress Harriet Andersson.

We would like to think that the “Mago: style icon of the Swedish stage” exhibition will appeal to a large audience and that many new groupings – not least young people – with an interest in fashion, film and theatre will find their way to the museum.

Mago made a considerable mark on the world and time in his day. Here, at the Jewish Museum, visitors will get to know one of our time’s greatest costume designers in an exhibition of colour and magnificence that I believe will be remembered for a long time!

I look forward to seeing you.

Yvonne Jacobsson
Museum Director


Exhibit Group:
Yvonne Jacobsson, Jewish Museum Director, responsible for the exhibition and producer
Peter Gripewall, acting Director of The Theatre Museum of Sweden
Yael Fried, exhibition assistant, public relations officer Anna Bergman and Nils Harning, exhibition designers/scenographers, curators

The Jewish Museum would like to thank the following people and partners in the project:
Peter Goldstein Mago’s only brother, who has lent sketches and private objects. Were it not for Peter Goldstein’s generous participation, the exhibition would not have been possible.
Harriet Andersson, actress
Micael Bindefeld, PR consultant and party arranger
Erika Blomberg, head of Royal Dramatic Theatre’s dye works
Markus Blomfeld, responsible for Rotebro costume collection
Karl Gabor, photography and graphic design
Barbro Hellsing, head of Royal Dramatic Theatre’s costume store
Jan Herdevall, filmmaker at Sound & Music
Johan Johansson, Folkers band (ribbons and string)
Dag Kronlund, head of archive and library at Royal Dramatic Theatre
Lars Norén, translations
Agneta Pauli, previous administrator and scenographer at Royal Dramatic Theatre
Tino Rivero, Folkers band
Lotta Rudman, Royal Dramatic Theatre’s dye works
Fredrik Rundqvist, head of film service at Swedish Film Institute in Rotebro
Karin Shepard, head of stores at Royal Dramatic Theatre
Eva Wallien, head of costumes at Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts
Bengt Wanselius, photographer
K-Å Westerlund Byggnads AB (builders)

Project partners:
Goethe Institute in Stockholm
Deutsche Kinematek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen (German film and television museum)
Judiska Bibiloteket (Jewish library)
The Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden
Stockholm Stads Utbildningsförvaltning (education administration)
Swedish Film Institute
The Theatre Museum of Sweden, through Peter Gripewall

The Jewish Museum in Stockholm would like to specially thank:
Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation for a very generous contribution to the exhibition, and Micael Bindefeld AB for their commitment and magnanimous arrangement in conjunction with the exhibition opening!

Said about Mago:
“It’s in his artist name, ‘Mago’, a whiff of the 50’s, that thin line accentuating body contours, the luxurious feel of velvet, silk and ostrich feathers. Ingmar Bergman saw something else in him: his extreme sense of form. They triumphed with ‘Hedda Gabler’ at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in 1964, a happy meeting of two unadulterated aesthetes. Mago’s stage decor (as it was then called) was an orgy pandering to Bergman’s love of red; …”, writes Dagens Nyheter newspaper theatre critic Leif Zern on 8 April 2008, after Max Goldstein had passed away.

Said by Mago:
“A plunging neckline can be the main attraction.”
“Those who are in the limelight are entitled to all my care and attention.”
“Ladies and gentlemen: the clothes I design you will see in the limelight.”
“You can never come up with too much. Because that’s what reality does all the time.”

Dietrich on Mago:
“He’s my only true friend! Always gives, never requires.”


mago_logenMago and Theatre

Already when he was a child and at school in 1930’s Berlin, young Max Goldstein was fascinated by the magical world of theatre and cinema. Already then, as a young boy, he would draw what he saw and experienced in a series of well-made drawings.

As a young refugee in Stockholm in the 1940’s, Max came into contact with a number of different drama groups. He started producing model sketches for costumes and sceneries. And at the same time he also went to see several variety shows and plays in Stockholm.

It was as a newspaper artist and illustrator that Max Goldstein received his first assignments. In the mid-1940’s he would illustrate theatre reviews and articles in Stockholm’s two leading evening papers. Through this work he made contacts within the world of theatre and met many of the great artists of that period.

In the autumn of 1949, Max Goldstein, who had by now become Mago in earnest, was asked to design the costumes for variety show giants Sven Paddock’s and Nils Perne’s production, ‘Vi skrattar igen’ (We’re Laughing Again), due to open at Stockholm’s Scala Theatre. New to play the role of prima donna was Git Gay. The critics’ verdict on lyrics and sketches was harsh, while the contributions of the prima donna, as well as the costume designer, met with praise.

Already the year after, in 1950, Mago was the preferred supplier for Sandrew’s three Stockholm theatres – Scala, Södra Teatern and Oscars. Scala and Södra Teatern were home to a plethora of variety shows, albeit different in genre and depth, while Oscars provided the firm basis for musicals. The Södra Teatern “Farväl till fyrtiotalet” (Farewell to the Forties) show was a celebration of the new and promising 50’s and launched Naima Wifstrand as the prima donna, an actress who had been a success in a number of operettas already in the early 1900’s and who now, after several years of silence, made a comeback on the theatre stage.

In 1950, on his first assignment for Oscars, Mago designed the costumes for the musical show “Rose Marie”, by Harbach and Hammerstein II. This was also Sonja Stjernkvist’s debut production aimed at a Stockholm audience.

This year also Karl Gerhard had his eyes opened to Mago as a costume designer. For Gerhard’s ‘Där de stora torskarna går’ (Where the Big Fish Go) show, first opening in Gothenburg and later shown in Stockholm, Mago provided the costume design.

Variety and musical shows were to dominate Mago’s work for the stage during the whole of the 1950’s. His assignments came from the Sandrew theatres in Stockholm – Scala, Södra Teatern and Oscars – as well as from Karl Gerhard’s variety shows. Starting in 1955 Mago also carried out a string of assignments in Copenhagen.

Looking at preserved costumes and sketches there is a marked difference between the different genres, while a playful elegance permeates Mago’s entire oeuvre. For the early Scala shows, which must be considered the most popular in style, Mago designed a host of imaginative costumes, where particularly the creations for women could most often be described as intriguingly risqué. A lot of exposed skin and provocative details characterise these costumes, where even the prima donna may have appeared in a bathing costume-like body, with a conspicuously large bow on her behind. Or with her breasts looking like the telephone dialling discs of the time. Both Mago and actress Harriet Andersson have retold their first encounter in the costume studio in 1950, when Andersson said to Mago, “I am not employed here to show my navel.” Upon which Mago retorted: “I have made the sketch and it’s been passed, so go and talk to the accountant.”

For Karl Gerhard’s variety shows Mago designed a range of costumes inspired by the Parisian show traditions of the Moulin Rouge and the Lido. Git Gay wore snake skin-tight dresses strewn with sequins and plume decorations. Considerable elegance.

Mago’s costumes for the Oscars operettas were more soberly understated, even though the playfulness was still there. Sonja Stjernkvist’s costume in the 1950 “Rose Marie” production had a folklorish simplicity about it, as did Ulla Sallert’s widow’s costume in “‘The Merry Widow” from 1954, although she was allowed to float out in the ball, wearing a figure-hugging outfit studded with sequins and pearls similar to Git Gay’s show costumes. Furthermore, the Glavari soldiers’ uniforms were equipped with a daring pom pom ball fringe, also featured in several of the other costumes, and the dancers appeared in athletic costumes made of the same fabric as the soldiers’s swordbelts. The pom pom fringe was a recurring signature feature of Mago’s costumes during a major part of the 1950’s.

During the 1960’s and 70’s Mago was busy in a number of arenas. In Sweden he fashioned both costumes and sceneries for a number of productions at the Royal Dramatic Theatre and Stockholms Stadsteater (Stockholm City Theatre). At the same time he designed stage sceneries and costumes for a number of European theatres in Copenhagen, Oslo, London, Helsinki, Munich, Vienna, Malmö, Helsingborg and more. Mago’s final production was to be “Bildmakarna” (The Image Makers), staged at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, in 1998.

Peter Gripewall
acting Director
The Theatre Museum of Sweden


mago_pliceradMago – to my generation, a name of near mythical proportions in theatre and film

Our paths would cross now and then, when I received an assignment that brought me into the world of film or theatre. Always that sharp tongue of his and all the exciting anecdotes about well-known actors and actresses around the world.

But it was not until 1985 that we got to work together. I became the first photographer to be employed by the Royal Dramatic Theatre and one of my first tasks was to photograph a play called ‘Catsplay’, by Istvan Örkeny and directed by Lasse Pöysti. Mago was responsible for scenery and costumes. One of the roles was played by Hjördis Petersson, the final performance of an aging actress. To see Mago assisting and helping her with costume fittings and so on gave me a warm glow. He really knew how to treat a prima donna.

Since then we worked together a number of times and our coffee breaks in the theatre canteen are deeply engraved in my memory. Mago had an opinion about most things and naturally also about the fashion of the day, which was soundly debated around the coffee table. I remember the question why he had not designed clothes coming up. His reply was that “my calling is the theatre and film.” Our coffee breaks turned into friendship and I was given the opportunity to help out with some of his exhibitions, where he showed his marvellous sketches of costumes. But it was not until 1998, when we both worked on Ingmar Bergman’s production of “Bildmakarna” (The Image Makers), that I first visited Mago’s small studio at Gärdet in Stockholm and saw his sketches. The little room was practically filled from top to bottom with his sketches and costume books. It was then that I got the idea of attempting to make a video documentary of Mago showing his sketches and talking to the camera. The project was slow in coming and the trip to Berlin that we had planned had to be cancelled as Mago fell suddenly ill. There never was another opportunity to go to Berlin.

My videotapes ended up on the shelf of incomplete but fun projects, which might one day be realised. When the Jewish Museum in Stockholm contacted me and presented their plans for an exhibition about Mago, I had the chance to finalise the film and let Mago’s sketches ‘dance’. But most of all we are able to partake of his stories and humorous recollections from a long life in film and theatre. It also gives us an idea of the scope of his production.

Stockholm, September 18, 2009
Bengt Wanselius, photographer

Photographer Bengt Wanselius’ film about Mago is shown in the exhibition with English subtitles.


Några föremål








Teaterbok 1938/39, Berlin
“From August 1935 on I kept a neat record of all the films I saw. Behind the film’s title I put a small red star to indicate that it was suitable for children. The actors I also wrote down and the ones I particularly liked got a red line under their names.”
Mago from the book ‘Klä av, klä på…’ 1988


Eight toy soldiers in elastoline
“…//… in the large toy shop, which was just around the corner. There I discovered there were toy soldiers in colourful uniforms from Frederick the Great’s time. I collected those zealously all the way up till we were forced to leave Germany: The great Prussian king on horseback, his generals Ziethen and Seydlitz, Die langen Kerl’s and the music corps where ‘blackamoors’ were drummers…//… At school we had begun to talk about Frederick the Great… the image of the heroic king now lauded by the Nazis. My idol was also Hitler’s.”
Mago was inspired by these toy soldier uniforms and epaulets when he drew uniforms (examples can be seen in the exhibition).
Mago FROM THE BOOK ”Klä av, klä på…” 1988


The father’s door sign
Jewish doctors were banned from practising their profession in legislation introduced in 1935. Before then the door signs of Jewish doctors were painted over with red or yellow paint, or were pasted over with boycott posters. Jewish doctors were only allowed to treat Jewish patients. On 5 October 1938 Jewish passports were declared invalid in Germany. The passports were stamped with a red ‘J’. Sweden and Switzerland, the only so called neutral countries in Europe, contributed to this decision. Jewish men were given the additional name ‘Israel’ and women the name ‘Sara’ in their passports, and in all other identification documents. The added name of ‘Israel’ was found also on Dr Fritz Goldstein’s door sign.


The Marlene sketch
“The ‘German good’, which had existed there but, just like us, was not allowed any room, had somehow taken shape in the handsome actress, clad in fantastic feathers and the sweep of furs. Marlene was also Berlin. In my sketches I gave the women her features and found inspiration in her attire. My initial fledgling attempts att drawing costumes for the stage showed unmistakable signs…”
Mago from the book ”Klä av, klä på…” 1988


Diaries 1981, 1983, 1986 full of entries of assignments and meetings


Threateninh letter from a neo-Nazi group
Between 1992 and 1993 Max and Peter Goldstein received threats through repeated telephone calls and letters from neo-Nazi groups. The ‘Death to ZOG*’ letter threat, from White Aryan Resistance, was sent to Mago’s brother Peter in 1993.
* ”Zionist Occupation Government” and its acronym, ZOG, refers to a conspiration theory, according to which Jews secretly run a country, where the government is but a puppet regime. The expression is frequently used by different antisemitic movements, such as neo-Nazis in the United States and Europe, ultra nationalists like ‘Pamjat’ in Russia, right-wing extremists in Poland as well as neo-Nazi and right-wing extremist organisations in Sweden.” Source: Wikipedia.


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